Luther Rawlings, a mild-mannered barber and baseball fan, takes a bus ride that could cost him his life. While Luther fights for his life, Hawk Williams, a friend from Luther’s hometown, takes us through five decades of Luther’s life. The Last Visitor is about “last visits.” It’s about real down-to-earth people, overcoming their faults and shortcomings through the short and final “visits” throughout their lives. So, take a humorous and dramatic journey into this wonderful story in a small American town that is full of surprises where all is not as it seems.
One of the things I love about book blogging is the opportunity it gives me to read books I would never have found otherwise. When BookCrash contacted me about reading/reviewing E. A. James’ book The Last Visitor, I was definitely interested. It sounded like a book I would really enjoy. For the most part I found the novel touching, with notes of humor and poignancy. It is an exploration of small town America and the relationship between its black and white citizens.
The Last Visitor opens in 1993. Luther Rawlings has just arrived in Los Angeles from the tiny town of Coolidge, Arizona to see his son graduate from law school. Unknown to him, tensions are running high on the 2nd anniversary of the Rodney King beating. Because he is an old, white man, he is brutally beaten. His life long friend, Hawk Williams, takes over the narrative and describes the life that Luther has lived. Over 60 years of a life well lived is chronicled.
The character of Luther Rawlings is simple and naive. Choosing to expect the best from people, he lives his life focused on God. He also seems unaware of skin color. Befriending both white and black, Luther experiences heartache, joy and love. The other characters that inhabit the town of Coolidge, Arizona, are a bit more colorful. There is Jake, Luther’s friend and employer who never seems without his stogy and his sharp comments. Mama Lucille and Aunt Mabel are the Greek chorus of the Baptist church offering tasty bits of news throughout the preacher’s sermons. Sixty years of Luther’s life is lived against the backdrop of the American experience. Lots of things change in Coolidge and many things stay the same.
The Last Visitor has strengths and weaknesses. The solid voice of Hawk as he retells Luther’s life hits the mark. The story keeps the reader interested. The story of Coolidge unfolds including the good, the bad and the very ugly. James portrays real faith through Luther’s steadfast adherence to what is right. Hypocrisy in the church is exposed as well. There seem to be a few gaps in the narrative though — Luther becomes a preacher, yet the reader doesn’t really see how Luther progresses to that point. It just happens out of the blue. There also is a continuity problem that a little more editing could have fixed. As stated, the action begins in 1993 with Luther’s son’s law school graduation. However, his son is not even born in 1975! Things like that bother me and get me off track from the story (I am a nerd that way). And since this book is billed as a New Edition, I would have expected the date discrepancy to have been fixed. The narrative is written in Hawk’s voice – an uneducated black man – so the unique language is to be expected. But some of the grammar issues seem to be due to editing rather than Hawk’s style of speaking.
All in all, I enjoyed The Last Visitor. Please note that there are instances of mild profanity.
(Thanks to BookCrash for a review copy. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)
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